I’m very excited today to be bringing you our brand new The Coming Evil short story, “Holiday Spirit”. This is a free-to-read internet-exclusive, just for you. A new installment will be uploaded every morning for the next four days, right here.
This story marks a number of firsts. It’s the first of the short stories to include the new The Coming Evil logo in the title card. It’s also our first Christmas story. And, especially fun for me, it’s the first The Coming Evil story written by someone other than myself! This story was written by my wife, Meghan Mitchell—a fine writer in her own right, who has served as my proofreader and “logic detector” for almost nine years now. She’s been with me nearly every step of the way with The Coming Evil, and knows these characters almost as much as I do. We were on our way to her parents’ house to decorate the Christmas tree a few weeks ago and she commented that I should write a Christmas story for The Coming Evil. Then she proceeded to tell me what all could happen in it :p It was at this point that I turned to her and said, “Then why don’t you write it?” And she did, I’m happy to say. Having her on board, doing all the muscle work and giving me the opportunity to just sit back and enjoy my creation as a fan is a great Christmas present.
So, enjoy this special presentation, and know that it will be the last new short story before The Strange Man—Book One of The Coming Evil Trilogy—arrives in stores February 2011!
Oh, and keep a lookout in this installment for a special cameo by a certain writer *coughcough*me*coughcough* and his family ;)
Historian’s Note: This tale takes place a month after “The Coming Evil: The Last Halloween”, and is the last Christmas before the events depicted in “The Coming Evil, Book One: The Strange Man”
Black Friday was an event in which Dras Weldon and his best friend, Rosalyn Myers, most decidedly did not participate. Instead they spent the day after Thanksgiving lounging around Rosalyn’s apartment (because hers was clean), watching old creature features and munching on Thanksgiving leftovers sent home the day before by Dras’ mother. They joked and razzed on the movie of the moment in between bites of turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches and chilled pumpkin pie, enjoying the day, oblivious to the pre-Christmas frenzy that captivated so many of their fellow Greensboro citizens.
“Oh, yeah,” Dras blurted halfway through The Giant Killer Mantis. “Mom wanted me to make sure you were still off on Sunday so you can come help decorate the Christmas tree.”
“Sure,” Rosalyn exhaled, feeling one piece of pie over the limit. “I’ll be there. I’m a regular elf, you know.”
The jeer settled more heavily on Dras than he’d like to admit, and he slumped a bit in his seat. True, he was not the Christmas fanatic his mother was. Louise Weldon seemed to begin counting down the days to Christmas about five minutes after shouting “Happy New Year!”. She giddily floated through the house all December, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, lighting candles with Christmas-y scents, plugging in lights and such. Dras didn’t fancy strapping on a Santa hat anytime soon, but something of his mother had been passed down to him, too, it seemed. The world seemed simpler at Christmastime. Family, home, joy—everything boiled down to a few carols and holiday films.
Rosalyn, on the other hand, was a regular Scrooge. And Dras could understand it. She came from a broken home, and any holiday traditions her family held dear had all been shattered when her father took his own life ten years ago.
But she has warm Christmas memories with us, Dras sulked, reflecting on all the years Rosalyn had been a fixture at his own family Christmases. She helped put up the tree, she came to drink hot chocolate and sing carols, she ate Christmas dinner with them.
Guess it’s not enough.
“In fact,” Rosalyn continued, “I was thinking of putting up a tree of my own this year.” Dras almost brightened, then noticed her smirk. “Kidding.”
“Aw, Roz, you oughta at least put up a string of lights or something. Have some holiday spirit.”
“It’s a small apartment, Dras. No room.”
It was a lame excuse to mask a deeper issue, and Dras knew it, but he decided to play along. “No room? C’mon, you’ve got plenty of room for a Christmas tree. Stick a tabletop one on top of that dinosaur over there.” Dras gestured toward an ancient stereo that occupied the entire space of wall separating Rosalyn’s kitchen from her bedroom. It was a behemoth, something that appeared so heavy that Dras wondered how it didn’t fall through the ceiling onto the denizens of the floor beneath. And out of date did not even begin to describe it. The stereo would have been dazzling on the pages of a 1969 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. But as usual, Rosalyn defended it.
“That dinosaur, as you so eloquently put it, is a fine work of craftsmanship.”
“Roz, you bought it at a flea market.”
“It was an amazing find. A sound system with a good record player is hard to come by.”
“Because no one listens to records anymore.”
“Dras, Dras.” Rosalyn sighed. “Everything sounds better on vinyl.”
And she believed it. Rosalyn’s musical tastes were eclectic, ranging from folksy coffeehouse serenades to techno to classic rock to Motown. She couldn’t find her newer favorites on her cherished vinyl, but her record collection was quite extensive. Many of them had belonged to her dad.
Everything goes back to her dad. Christmas, records, everything.
Sometimes Dras wanted so badly to make all that pain disappear, he would’ve done anything. But he didn’t know what to do.
Abruptly, the phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. Rosalyn leapt to her feet, winced as the afternoon smorgasbord jumbled about in her stomach, and grabbed the phone from inside her kitchen. Dras stared blankly through The Giant Killer Mantis while he waited for her to return, suddenly feeling less excited about Christmas and not really sure why. Nothing was different. Rosalyn was always like this.
“That was Michael from work,” Rosalyn spoke as she re-entered the room. “Andrea called in sick, so I gotta cover for her.”
“In about twenty minutes. So I guess the mantis will have to devour Chicago another day.”
Dras frowned. “Okay. Well, see you Sunday then. For tree decorating and stuff?”
“Yeah,” Rosalyn absentmindedly replied, clearing the coffee table of plates and cups.
Dras collected his movie, slipped on his sneakers, and left the apartment, feeling less whole than he had when he arrived.
* * *
Rosalyn glanced at the clock above the front door from her hostess stand at Larezzo’s, Greensboro’s one and only Italian eatery, unless you counted the pizza place inside the gas station on Second Avenue. Six thirty-two. She’d only been working for an hour and a half and she felt like she’d been here an eternity. It wasn’t a bad job, and she didn’t really dislike it. Somehow she just felt…off tonight, and it was hard to keep smiling at customers and feigning interest in their tales of Black Friday adventure.
It’s Dras and this whole Christmas mess, she realized. Every year, for the last ten years, it had been the same. Dras tried to get her excited about Christmas. His older brother, Jeff, tried to use the holiday to get her excited about Jesus. His parents, Jack and Louise, tried extra hard to make her feel like part of the family. She appreciated their effort, she supposed. It was nice to know she was loved. But it was painful, too, to never be able to meet their expectations.
Rosalyn warmly greeted a young family with two small daughters as they entered the restaurant. The younger girl, a baby, was carried by her mother, but the older one, Rosalyn guessed four or five years old, held tightly to her father’s hand, grinning up at him as they shared a familiar joke while they were led to their table. For a moment, Rosalyn thought she might throw up. This was what Dras could never understand, that the time of year when families drew closer would always be the worst time for her. Her family would never draw close again.
It’s hitting me extra hard this year, Rosalyn reflected. I thought I would feel better after the whole closure coincidence with Dad’s old car on Halloween. Will it be any different if I move away? What’s wrong with me?
Maybe Dras was right. Maybe she needed a little holiday spirit, something to pull her out of the depression she felt gnawing at her insides lately. It wouldn’t be easy, but maybe, if she really tried, she could get into the holly-jolly, peace on earth, goodwill to men stuff that Dras loved so much. And she owed it to Dras, after all. It was probably her last Christmas as a citizen of Greensboro, though she still hadn’t told him yet about the college in Vermont where she’d applied. Maybe she should make a real effort to make this Christmas special.
I’ll go Christmas shopping tomorrow, she decided, returning to the hostess stand to greet another happy family. It was something she had to do eventually, anyway. Just because she was a “bah humbug” kind of girl didn’t mean she forsook the holiday gift-giving tradition. She just didn’t normally like it.
But I’ll try this year.
She handed out menus and smiled her prettiest smile, complimenting a woman on her stylish purse. This group, like all the others in the restaurant, looked so happy, so in love with life. And as she swiveled to return to her post, Rosalyn could hear them, like all the others, beginning a conversation about Christmas. Rosalyn felt a tinge of envy.
Shopping tomorrow. Getting out there and saturating herself in the world of Santa Claus and fake snow and upbeat holiday ditties. She felt dubious and wondered if her plan to generate Christmas happiness was too simple.
It’s worth a shot.
* * *
Saturday morning hit Dras like a ton of bricks.
Last night he’d caught up with Rosalyn after she got off work, and the two of them headed to their favorite hangout, The Rave Scene, for a couple of hours of drinking and dancing. Even the club was getting into the Christmas spirit, with lights and sprigs of mistletoe hanging everywhere, and Larry, Dras’ favorite bartender, sporting a Santa hat. Rosalyn seemed to disdain the holiday decorations less than usual, but Dras could tell she was putting up some serious effort.
He got home sometime in the wee hours of the morning, he wasn’t sure just when, and crashed on the couch with a soda and the last piece of pumpkin pie. He fell asleep in the middle of eating the pie and woke up now with its remains smeared across the Ninja Turtles t-shirt he was wearing.
“Maann…I love this shirt!”
Dras rubbed his face and sighed heavily. His head hurt already and he’d only just opened his eyes. It wasn’t a proper hangover; he didn’t have that much to drink last night. No, it was just a general feeling of laziness and lousiness.
Rising from the couch and removing his soiled t-shirt, Dras caught a glimpse of a photo frame perched atop his entertainment center, amid his collection of recently purchased and rented videos. It was one of many candid snapshots of he and Rosalyn, this one taken at Christmas three or four years ago. The two of them were sitting in front of his parents’ Christmas tree, unwrapping their gifts. Dras clearly remembered what Rosalyn had given him. He’d just stained it with pumpkin pie. But he had to look closely at the picture to spot what he’d given her.
A travel coffee mug.
Perhaps not the most personal gift. Curious, Dras opened the storage door on the side of the entertainment center and pulled out a photo album. Rosalyn compiled all their pictures for him and slid them into photo albums, adding witty captions here and there. He flipped to a Christmas picture from last year.
I got her an electric pencil sharpener?
The caption read: DRAS OBVIOUSLY SUPPORTS MY COLLEGE EDUCATION.
Dras flipped again, back another year. There was Rosalyn, opening a gift that must be from him, judging from the wrapping, which was actually just a grocery sack with a bow stuck on top. The following picture depicted Rosalyn holding up her gift.
A three-pack of king-size candy bars.
Rosalyn liked chocolate as much as the next girl, but Dras admitted to himself that the gift didn’t have any thought behind it. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about Rosalyn, it was just…well, he didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was getting caught up in the enjoyment that Christmas brought to him. Maybe it was knowing that Rosalyn didn’t care about the holidays, anyway.
Maybe I’m just a cruddy gift giver.
Not this year, Dras decided. This year he was going to get Rosalyn something special. After all, she was always there for him, and she was the only person who really understood him. Plus, she deserved it. She needed something to make Christmas joyful, and a really amazing gift might do the trick.
Excited about his plan to wow Rosalyn with his gift-choosing skills, a still shirtless and unshowered Dras reached into his jeans pocket to retrieve his Velcro wallet. He opened it to find a whopping six dollars inside. He frowned. The tiny amount could be problematic. Deflated, he sank back onto his couch. As he racked his aching brain for possible solutions to his lack of cash, he realized he had no idea where he’d even buy Rosalyn’s present. Greensboro was not exactly a hotbed of commerce, and when he journeyed to the mall over in Russellville, he always bummed a ride from, well, Rosalyn. He didn’t foresee his bike taking him that far.
The situation overwhelmed him for the moment and Dras sullenly switched on the television, hoping a few minutes of cartoons or a movie might supply his mind with the relaxation it needed to function more precisely. He found a superhero cartoon and stared blankly at the screen until a commercial break interrupted his waking slumber. Suddenly, there before him was the answer to all his problems.
“Strapped for Christmas cash?” the locally produced commercial began. “Come on down to John’s Pawn on the corner of Fourth Street and Terrace. John’s offers an extensive collection of electronics, jewelry, toys, books, and more. You’re sure to find something for everyone on your Christmas list. And we love to make trades or pay you cash now for your unwanted items. So don’t wait—head to John’s Pawn now to finish your Christmas shopping today!”
Twenty minutes later, a freshly showered Dras was on his way.
Copyright 2010 Greg Mitchell
Read Part Two!